I expect Richard Sherman to recover fully and be a productive cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers. But his impact on the field is just one aspect of his signing. John Lynch, Robert Saleh and Kyle Shanahan want to build a defense reminiscent of the ones that were successful with Sherman’s former team, the Seattle Seahawks.
More than anything, I’m excited to see how Sherman’s presence elevates Ahkello Witherspoon, the other starting cornerback on the roster. Witherspoon started 2017, his rookie season, as a bench player who was not expected to see the field much. Word out of training camp was that he struggled at times with tackling, and many suggested he may not even play as a rookie.
Witherspoon wound up playing on 660 defensive snaps, or 58.67 percent, behind only Dontae Johnson among cornerbacks. Witherspoon wasn’t perfect, but he certainly looked good making tackles, and he didn’t make the rookie mistakes one expected after the lack of enthusiasm around him following training camp and the preseason.
It’s not just that the 49ers have a young cornerback, either. It’s that the 49ers have a young cornerback with the same physical strengths and skillset to Sherman, one who modeled his game on Sherman’s. Witherspoon trained — at Sherman’s father’s suggestion — with one of Sherman’s trainers before his senior season at Colorado, as pointed out by Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee.
And it’s not surprising that Witherspoon modeled himself after Sherman, arguably the best cornerback in the league for a four- or five-year stretch. The 49ers hope and expect Sherman to return to high-level play, but I’m sure they’ve spent plenty of time thinking about Sherman’s potential positive impact on Witherspoon, a player this regime spent a third-round pick on a year ago.